Fighting for the national forests.
One of the better kept secrets of environmental history is that the American Forestry Association deserves the lion's share of credit for the creation of the national forests. If AFA's seminal role is largely unsung, its efforts on behalf of the forest reserves over the past century have been unwavering. In a word, AFA has been the national forests' most steadfast champion.
Its relationship with the agency that administers the forests is more complicated. AFA has in fact searched long and hard to find a proer mien toward the Forest Service--neither stooge nor basher nor shadow but perhaps partner, ally, or friendly watchdog.
A Secretary of the Interior once accused a director of the American Forestry and Association of being a "stooge of the lumber interests." Harsh words, but AFA fought this kind of image for a long time until both sides agreed on an amiable divorce. Something similar happened with the Forest Service. The government agency and the citizens' conservation group started out as lovers, agonized through an occasional spat, and now have developed a mature relationship based on mutual respect. Not quite a marriage, not quite a divorce--but maybe something inbetween.
Certainly the two started life hand-in-glove. For one thing, the players were the same. Two of AFA's early prime movers--Franklin B. Hough and Bernhard Eduard Fernow--served as chiefs of the Division of Forestry (precursor of the Forest Service). Other forestry chiefs have held prominent positions on AFA's board of directors--William B. Greeceley and Gifford Pinchot come to mind.
Sometimes the two organizations have almost seemed like Siamese twins. It's not been uncommon for Forest Service career officers such as Ovid Butler and Herman Suter to move over to positions in AFA--respectively as forester (later editor) and magazine editor. Rex Resler held the Forest Service's No. 2 spot before becoming AFA's executive vice president. Personnel trading still goes on today, in fact, with Forest Service retirees Dwight Hair, Howard Burnett, and Bill Tikkala performing vital functions at AFA, and one-time AFA project director Fred Deneke heading up the Forest Service's urban and community forestry program.
It would be interesting to know hom many Forest Service employees are members of AFA. The other side of the coin--what percentage of AFA's total membership works for the Forest Service--could be equally revealing. How these figures have changed over the years might also tell much about the relationship. Unfortunately, hard data is unavailable, and sound history isn't built on guesstimates.
Getting back to facts that we do know, at one time AFA had its offices in the Department of Agriculture, home of the Division of Forestry. That was in 1900 right after AFA shared quarters with National Geographic (surely one of the more bizarre footnotes in AFA's history).
Apart from shared people and a joint home, what the early AFA and Forest Service (then the Division of Forestry) had most in common was a shared mission. Historian Henry Clepper relates how year after year the infant association presented petitions to congress asking for forest reserves. By 1887 the young citizens' group (founded in 1875) had drafted a detailed bill for setting aside public timberlands. The bill failed, but AFA persevered until 1891 when Congress finally passed a statute authorizing the forest reserves, and President Harrison proceeded to set aside the first 13 million acres.
"It would be an exaggeration," historian Clepper admits, "to suggest that this momentous legislation was obtained solely through the efforts of the American Forestry Association." Still, Clepper's writings do little to dispel the impression that AFA led the charge that resulted in this milestone.
AFA continued to play a leading role during the next stage in the national forests story. The new reserves were being illegally exploited, so legislation was needed to set up an administrative framework for protecting them. The first step was the Forest Reserve Act of 1897. Then, in 1905, AFA was a prime mover in transferring stewardship of the reserves from the Department of the Interior, at the time troubled by frauds and staffed with political appointees, to the Department of Agriculture, where trained civil service foresters could bring to bear the best available technical knowledge.
During the first decade of the 1900s, AFA also channeled its resources into the 10-year battle to expand the reserve system from the western part of the nation into the eastern United States. In 1907--the same year Congress changed the name forest reserve to national forest, AFA sent out an appeal for contributions to help create two eastern national forests. The association's magazine published an article, "Save the Forests in the Appalachian and White Mountains," accompanied by photographs of denuded and eroded mountainsides. Weekly press bulletins went out to 1,500 newspapers in what was surely one of the earliest conservation campaigns in U.S. history.
AFA's decade-long efforts on behalf of the national forests came to fruition in the Weeks Law, the benchmark legislation passed in 1911 that eventually led to the purchase of 2.5 million acres of eastern timberland.
AFA had established itself as the leading advocate for the national forests, but that does not mean that the conservation organization and the agency that administered the forests always saw eye to eye. The first cloud in the relationship occurred in 1915 during a dispute raging between the Forest Service and western states opposed to federal ownership of the national forests. Henry S. Graves--then-chief of the Forest Service (and later an AfA president)--called on AFA for help in repelling attempted raids against the national forests by legislators intent on dismembering them and turning them over to the states. At a meeting of the association, Graves read a paper titled, "How the American Forestry Association May Aid the Work of the Forest Service."
But in this case the association adopted a hands-off policy. Historian Clepper writes that Henry S. Drinker, then-president of AFA, "declared that the association should not be the tail to a government bureau's kite. He feared that if the western states won the fight, the association would be put in the position of a discredited and beaten ally of the Forest Service.'"
Cleppers goes on to point out that Drinker's reluctance to help the Forest Service beat off threats to the western national forests "was not shared by all the directors." In fact, an open rift developed within AFA's ranks, and board member William B. Greeley--soon to be Graves' successor as Forest Service chief--resigned in disgust.
The episode was not one of the bright spots in AFA history, but it was short-lived. New leadership took over by 1922, marking a watershed in the history of the American Forestry Association.
Within a short time, AFA was actively helping Greeley--who had by then become chief--fight to save Alaska (see "Retooling the Tongass" on page 50) and block an attempt by Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall to herd the Forest Service back to Interior. AMERICAN FORESTS' editor Percival Ridsdale helped whip up public sentiment for the national forests and against Fall's machinations. (Incidentally, it is irrelevant but interesting to note that Fall was the cabinet member later found guilty of accepting a bribe in the Teapot Dome oil lease scandal.)
Through the rest of the 1920s, AFA started an aggressive campaign to expand the National Forest System. AFA also worked to improve fire control, forest research, and reforestation. The outcome was a series of laws--the Clarke-McNary Act, McNary-Woodruff Act, and the McSweeney-McNary Forest Research Act. The association was emerging as the national forests' champion in the halls of Congress.
During the 1930s, AFA's energies shifted to supporting the Civilian Conservation Corps and the fine work 300,000 CCC men did planting trees and constructing trails, firebreaks, and roads.
When a renewed attempt came along to transfer the Forest Service back to Interior, aoo personnel from the chief on down were forbidden to discuss the proposal publicly. AFA charged to the rescue with a magazine editorial questioning the purpose of the transfer, but later AMERICAN FORESTS--true to form--also aired the opposing view. This was the occasion when the opposition--then-Secretary of the Interior Harold S. Ickes--accused AFA of being financed by big-lumber interests and--by implication--a mouthpiece for the Forest Service.
The cozy frienship between agency and citizen's group waned when the Forest Service began plugging for federal regulation of privately owned forests. Once again, AMERICAN FORESTS aired all sides, but the association ultimately came out in favor of regulation by the states instead of the federal government.
The issue came to a head during World War II when Pinchot resigned his AFA membership because of AMERICAN FORESTS' editor Ovid Butler's "editorial attacks" on the Forest Service. Pinchot claimed that AFA, in refusing to support federal regulation, "had fallen under the influence of the lumber interests."
"This was a palpable absurdity," Henry Clepper writes. "Butler's editorial was temperate to the point of politeness and did not attack anyone." Clepper concludes that the pressure for regulation "had certain positive influences on the development of improved forestry practices, notably by industry."
Was this a spat--or a divorce? If divorce, a remarriage followed almost at once. AFA began mobilizing its educational prowess to help spread Smokey the Bear's fire-prevention message. Over the decades following WW II, AFA continued to direct public attention to the Forest Service's efforts to develop a national program for wildfire control. At the same time, the association pushed for faster progress reforesting the national forests.
In the 1970s AFA held a series of behind-the-scenes meetings to pursue "areas of agreement" between the timber industry and the conservation community on issues affecting the national forests. The Forest Service's chief during that decade, John McGuire, recalls that AFA would call meetings on issues ranging from the Forest Service's budget to clearcutting to the Resources Planning Act. McGuire credits AFA's efforts with producing "better understanding if not much agreement" in most cases.
He sees no evidence for the charge that the association was a stooge or mouthpiece for the agency. "AFA initiated most of these activities without any prompting from the Forest Service," he points out. He adds that the two organizations are "probably not quite as close as they were in the 1970s. AFA must go its own path, where its members' interests lie, and not simply try to maintain a good relationship with a federal agency."
It might be "a good thing" in fact, he says, for AFA to serve as a watchdog over the Forest Service. "AFA has tried to influence funding but not personnel appointments. It hasn't produced critiques of Forest Service policy to any degree. It has always done a little of this but not in any great depth." He would also like to see AFA review and influence research programs in the Forest Service. Perhaps the first step, he suggests, could be a forum to examine the question of whether there should be peer reviews in forestry research.
McGuire's successor Max Peterson credits AFA with actively supporting the legislation that mandated management plans for individual national forests. By then, AFA's interests were expanding beyond the national forests into areas like urban forestry. Peterson applauds the association for "being one of the early leaders in urban forestry. AFA carried that banner and kept it in the public eye at a time when all kinds of people were trying to do it in."
Max Peterson believes that AFA was once seen as "a shadow of the Forest Service," but he says that hasn't been the case "for a long time." At one time the two organizations, he maintains, "seemed almost interchangeable on policy issues. There's been some maturing of that relationship in the last 20 years. The Forest Service and AFA both see themselves as doing work that's complementary, but neither one is controlled by the other."
Conceding that the two are no longer as close as they once were, he attributes this to a growth in the number of players. "Thirty years ago if the chief of the Forest Service planned some new policies involving the national forests, he could have had a quiet little meeting in his office with seven or eight organizations. Today, he'd have to hire a hall. Even if the Forest Service wanted to, it probably couldn't influence AFA as it once did--and vice versa."
Peterson sees AFA's main role as pulling together a consensus on knotty issues. "That's something it's difficult for a government agency to duplicate," he points out. "AFA can invite whomever it wants to, where a government agency can't. Also, AFA is not under the thumb of whatever administration is in and whatever agenda they've come to town with."
It was during Peterson's tenure that AFA's Rex Resler battled one of those agendas--James Watt's plan for privatization of the national forests. Stressing the wrong-headedness of selling off the public heritage, Resler developed a reputation as the Forest Service's surrogate spokesman.
This was a perhaps-undeserved appellation but one that Resler's successor Neil Sampson had to come to terms with. Juggling the hot potatoes of the 1980s--old growth and below-cost timber sales--Sampson consciously positioned AFA as an independent voice. "AFA cannot be credible in its commentary on the agency," he says, "if we are seen as its surrogate voice."
Sampson refuses, however, to take the easy alternative of turning critic. Though convinced that AFA "could attract many members if we chose to pick enemies and bash them, it's been my sense that this would be inconsistent with the organization's heritage."
He feels that the Forest Service appreciates having an independent private-sector voice speaking out on the national forests. He credits the present leadership with being sympathetic to the fact that AFA's position will not always agree with the agency's.
In fact, current chief Dale Robertson denies emphatically that he would want "AFA or anybody else to be the Forest Service's mouthpiece. AFA has to call it as you see it." Speaking its own mind has gotten AFA into hot water on old-growth (AMERICAN FORESTS, March/April 1991), but Robertson credits AFA's position with helping to "frame the debate." Though not everybody agreed with the association's position, he says, "the important point is that AFA didn't shy away from a very controversial subject."
Although implying that the agency's position differs from AFA's, the chief adds that he has always viewed AFA as a "strong ally" of the Forest Service, standing for good stewardship and good management. "It's a partnership, but we must keep our distance somewhat to make sure we're both independent and expressing our own views. It just so happens there's a big overlap in our interests."
One common interest has always been tree planting. Today AFA is educating the public about the global importance of planting trees, and AFA's Global ReLeaf campaign has set the stage for expanded tree-planting efforts by the Forest Service.
"Global ReLeaf is a winner," says Robertson, "that struck a responsive chord and had a lot to do with making the connection between global warming and planting trees. Now we're following along behind with a tree-planting program, trying to catch up and riding the wave that AFA really initiated."
In addition to creating a receptive climate for tree planting among the general public, Global ReLeaf raised questions about the need for research into the efficacy of forests as a response to global warming. The Forest Service chief sees Global ReLeaf as one factor that helped the Forest Service sharpen its research agenda.
"AFA doesn't get all the credit," he cautions. "There were a lot of forces coming together, including the international concern about the global environment and the realization that trees and forests by filtering out pollutants and converting carbon dioxide to oxygen act as the lungs of the earth. But Global ReLeaf articulated it better than anyone else."
Citing another overlap in interests, he applauds AFA's "pioneering work in urban forestry" and the organization's leadership in laying the foundation for the new Farm Bill. He also notes AFA's growing activity in the international arena. "Through articles in AMERICAN FORESTS, you've picked up the drumbeat that's out there--the concerns--and articulated them." The new Farm Bill mandates that the Forest Service add a new deputy chief to oversee the agency's added responsibilities in international forestry.
Like any relationship, the one between AFA and the national forests--now exactly 100 years old--is far from static. Neil Sampson, asked what he envisions for the future, plucked three predictions from his crystal ball.
First the bad news. The agency that administers the forests is doomed to be caught in the middle of the growing controversy over access to natural resources. "The old notion that if we manage the national forests correctly, everybody will get a piece of the pie will no longer work," Sampson maintains.
Now the good. "The agency is set for a rebirth in prestige," Sampson says, basing his prediction on his belief that "the nation is due--past due--to leave behind the dark night of denigrating public service." But the Forest Service is going to have to raise its stature in the public's eyes in the midst of a climate where some interests find it good strategy to criticize and discredit technical and scientific managers.
Now for the third prediction.
Over the past 100 years, Sampson points out, forest research has focused on crop trees and timber production rather than natural ecosystems. Little attention has been devoted to re-creating stable, functioning ecosystems in the national forests.
"If we are successful in motivating citizens and corporations through Global ReLeaf--which challenges people to restore and repair ecosystems--it won't be long before the technical community will find itself challenged. Our focus on environmental action and rebuilding ecosystems will help accelerate the science of restoration ecology, and that will impact the way the Forest Service does research and technical-assistance transfer."
Sampson adds quietly, "That's the next great step for forestry."
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|Title Annotation:||Forest History|
|Author:||Davis, Norah Deakin|
|Date:||May 1, 1991|
|Previous Article:||National forests, national identity.|